On being authentic…and why it matters

Authenticity. It is a remarkable characteristic. And when that authenticity is combined with humility and grace, the possibility for greatness is within reach. And what of greatness? Is it defined by how high the reach or how far the circle of influence? How much one is lauded? And how often?
Often, the student becomes the teacher. And in this way, the student leads the way to greatness. Leads the way to greatness because of their authenticity. Because of their grace and humility. Through their strength of character. And although the scope of influence might be very small- it is influential nevertheless.
When I am duty teacher, I often experience my greatest teachable moments as an educator. I get to see students as their authentic selves. I see them at their very best. And although at times, I see them behaviorally at their worst, those times are few and far between. Usually there is a story behind the difficult behaviors: one that helps to explain why things are as they are. In all, interacting with students during their free time has been for me one of the most rewarding experiences of my career as a teacher. There are times when I have taken groups of students aside so as to facilitate them in solving their own personality disputes. Watching these students talk through their own problems has been a teachable moment for me, proof that students are their own best teachers. At other times, I have had the pleasure of watching students work cooperatively in a game or physical activity. At times, I have walked with students having difficulty connecting in play with other students. In finding these students their special niche, it has been rewarding seeing those same students who once ended up getting in trouble turn things around so that they were able to assist me in caring for students’ needs and requests.
Recently, I was involved in a duty incident in which I had to settle a dispute between two students. And do so quickly. Tensions were rising, along with voices and blood pressure. Mine primarily, as I knew if I was unable to cool things down quickly, there would be some serious concerns on my hand. As I quietly lowered my voice and tried to separate the students involved, I realized that one of the students had lost something which he wrongly was accusing another student of taking. As I had not been there when the incident in question went down, I was grasping at straws to figure out how to help these two students solve their issue. In the meanwhile, I petitioned the rest of the class to help me in finding the lost item, hoping to buy myself some time.
As I was rounding up my search and rescue effort, one young girl approached the boy who had been crying initially- the one who believed his desired item had been stolen. And completely unprovoked by me or any other prompting, she quietly said this to the boy:
“You can have mine. I have one of those (item that he was looking for) too. You can have mine.”
Her response was authentic. There was no glory for her in doing this, as no one could hear her over the din of the class, save for him or me. Furthermore, her response had been gracious. She was willing to forgo keeping an item if it meant one of her peers would be in distress. And her response was done in humility. She could have kept the item for herself- what it was, that particular item, was in hot demand. It was something everyone else in the class had been given as a token for Valentine’s Day, and each one of the children in the class had been enjoying that particular item during indoor recess. But this one little girl decided that it was not about her- it was about the greater good. It was about making someone elses’ day a little brighter. And she chose to place her own wants and desires on the back burner for the good of the other. She chose to be authentically graceful and humble.
And when I think back to this incident, as I have several times this weekend, I find myself believing that this child has much to teach me. For she has begun her journey toward greatness. She is well on her way. And too, when I think of whom I admire most in my own circles of influence, it has been the people with the most authenticity. For they are authentic in the ways in which they interact with others as well as they have been consistent in their own character. These people I admire most, they are gracious. Humble. Compassionate. And they have been my greatest life teachers.
And isn’t it interesting how many times, those people who’ve influenced me the very most have been children. We as adults would do well to listen closely to the teachers placed in our lives to keep us humble and authentic: our children. They have much to teach us about life and humanity. And we have much to learn.

Teach with Heart

To teach with heart- formidable task as that might be with the outcomes and core curricular goals driving our attention.  But teaching with heart is the one, sure way through;  it is the one way forward and the only way out for some of our students.  Halted as they might be by circumstances, events, issues and concerns which lie far beyond their control.  Deterred: they are not all lost forever.  For teaching with heart is often the roadmap that draws these students back on track.  That keeps them focused.

It’s what leads them home.

I recently wrote a letter.  December 2013, to be exact.  It was an unassuming note, really.  And I wrote it and lost track of it over the Christmas holidays.   That attempt of mine to move myself beyond stagnancy.  To reach out.   To propel myself forward- up and out.  It was not for nothing- for I had written that letter so as to connect.  That letter was meant for an audience of one.  But it came to be written for many.  It came to be read by many.  And as I have sat and read comment after comment here on this blog responding to that one particular letter I wrote that wintery December evening, I have also come to realize this: people long for love.   Long to be cared for.  Long to be noticed.  Because we all want to be recognized for the unique individuals we truly are.  We want to be challenged- inspired, motivated and stirred to greatness.  We want to learn the subject of love- to study it, absorb it, reflect it.  We crave it with every fibre of our being. For above all things- at the very essence of our core being is a desire to be cherished. And we want that cherishing- that love: to be compassionate and gentle at times, tough and accountable at others.  Firm yet tender.  Understanding, patient and intentional.  Perfect in its scope. We want love to be everything, yet limited to nothing.  And while we know that love is such a very small word, we also know that it holds meaning of gigantic proportions.

Love is…

And yet we realize that all too often, love is so misunderstood.  Talked about romantically, familial-ly, intimately.  Adored and abhorred.  But still it remains- it is what we crave.

The kind of love of which I wrote that December day was a love that roots- that champions.  That stands beside and cheers.  That moves people.  That expects much and receives much.  That inspires.  I was looking for it.  Looking for ways to love, even within a profession that at times has become bewildered with expectations to demand and require.  We are asked sometimes to do anything but love.  Writing that letter was my attempt, humble as that attempt might be, to find love- indeed to understand love in its most encompassing definition.  It was what I had come to expect from my parents, spouse- family and friends.  And yet, I had also come to presume this kind of love should also emanate from our professionals.  And since I am one: from our teachers.

But of course it should.  For love at its purest, most fragile form is that which is completely focused on the other.  Love is about serving. Love is about people.

There is within my heart a longing.  And that longing might soon be realized.  For I believe that we are on the precipice.  We are at a turning.  There is coming a pivotal moment in our educational history when we will see what learning was and what learning will become.  And it will be founded on love.  For when we love, we are empowered.  When we love, tides start to turn.  Love is the answer.

We have come to expect that our job is about transfer of knowledge and skills, but teachers want more than this; we must remember: teaching at it’s purest essence is about learning to love.  Learning to love ourselves, love each other and love the world.  Teachers, we must gain freedom from our curricular encroachment so as to learn to love again.  We seek release from the bondage that shackles us in chains.  We want to take flight once again- to soar high above where open skies welcome us with promise.  Where we see our potential as agents for change. We do not wish to be enslaved any longer.

It is for the good of our students that we stand united.  It is for love.

Because love is what we crave.

After I sent that letter, I received dozens of letters back.  The one that caught my eye was hers.  It was honest, open and heartfelt.  I sensed from within her a longing to be that kind of teacher.  And longing stemming from great depths of care.  From a heart of love.  Through several exchanges, her letter came to the surface as well.  And her message that we must not stifle our brightest and our best was not lost on me either.  We must remember- from the newest teacher through to the veteran.  To teach with heart.

It is the only way home.

Parents: remember this (you are your child’s most influential teacher)

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Parents, you are your children’s most important, most influential teachers. May you never forget this truth.

I was sitting watching my own daughters at an athletic event recently. I had a text book in my lap, so you might say, I was killing two birds with one stone. It was one of those rare, lazy afternoons when one could have just as easily drifted off for an afternoon siesta for a minute or two. But instead of relaxing — after a while, it became impossible for me to ignore a conversation going on behind me. The voices were loud enough that anyone within earshot could clearly hear the details of a very private conversation, unpacking the sordid events of local domestic abuse. Someone this person knew intimately. Disturbing details jumped out at me — and I became increasingly uncomfortable listening in.

I continued to follow the conversation — hard not to, it was unfolding right behind me — and the part that I couldn’t shake was an image of the children described in conversation. Children caught up in adult problems, left to deal with the aftermath of something no child should ever have to see, experience or know.

I shifted my attention for a moment and watched my own beautiful children go by — looking at me every so often so as to make sure I was aware they were there: ensuring that both my eyes were solely on them. And I thought to myself- you have no idea, my precious babies. None. No idea what some children are going through at this very instant. What some babies have to listen to before they go to bed. What some little girls have to hear, have to feel. No idea what some little boys must see before they are old enough to even realize what is happening. You have no idea. My beautiful, innocent children. You move past me like angels — full of hope. Full of joy. May you never have to know the difference.

As a teacher, I view the children in my class- indeed, in our school, as if they were my very own. They are my kids while under my watch. I take that responsibility as seriously as I do raising my own four children. There is a trust in passing one’s child over to another adult- a trust based on mutual understanding. The understanding is this: parents give me their most precious treasures to look after all day long, and it is understood that I will care for that treasure in the best ways I know how.

Tenderly.
Gently.
Lovingly.
Compassionately.
Truthfully.
Deliberately.
Relevantly.
Patiently.

Parents, when you pass the baton to us at 8:25 a.m. each and every morning, it is understood that the primary teacher is you. We know that those children have just spent their sleeping and then waking hours at home. We understand that you are giving us your best. Your beloved offspring- and you give them over to us to look after for the next eight hours. We do not take this responsibility lightly. Might I also say that when we return those precious children home again at the end of the day, we don’t stop caring? They are still in our hearts? They are still on our minds? We love them.

So when we are out in public and we hear stories of children who have been hurt or harmed in irreparable ways in the care of their parents, it gives us pause as teachers to examine our role in relation to yours. And to suggest, to you parents: you are not alone in this. We support you. We are there for you. We want to help you. We love your babies, your precious boys. Your beautiful little girls. And we recognize that your child is learning lessons about life from you that they will not soon forget: so parents, make those life lessons unforgettable in positive, beautiful ways. Let your child see that you can raise your head in pride for the lessons you’ve passed on to them. Let their first teacher — YOU — be their best teacher ever.

Parents, as teachers we are here for you. We know that this parenting gig is a tough one. We know that life happens, things go on in our everyday lives which we can’t control. But parents, know this: you can be amazing at something — and that’s being you child’s number one teacher.

Teach your children well — teach them about life and love and joy and sorrow. Teach them to be honest and kind. Teach them to be thoughtful and generous. Teach your children to care for others. Let your own life be the living textbook that your children read. May it be among the most inspiring books they ever open!

Parents, we can do this together. You’re amazing! And you are the very best teacher your child can come to know.

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/parenting_b_4757686.html

It’s Who We Are When The World’s Not Watching

It’s who we are when the world’s not watching that really matters.

I have been blessed to know a teacher who unbeknownst to him has inspired me to keep on teaching. Even when I don’t always like school. Even when I don’t always feel good enough to be a teacher. Even when I fail and mess up. When I am not where I’d like to be with regard to my lesson-planning abilities or my classroom organization. Even when I am not at my best with regards to my involvement in extra-curricular or professional development. Or with regards to the personal standards I have set for myself.

Because the truth of the matter is- there are days when I don’t bring my best self to the classroom. And I leave at the end of the day discouraged and wondering- is this the best place for me to be? Should I really be a teacher?

It’s on those days that a certain very exceptional teacher- Mr. M. has given me the encouragement to keep on going- inspiring me to be the kind of teacher that he is. For he is certainly one of the best.

It’s part of the reason I am still teaching, because of teachers like him.

Last night, I was part of a fund-raising event in which our school was asked to take part. As part of the event, the school choir was to sing, and Mr. M. Was asked as the school music teacher to lead the crowd in the singing of the national anthem. Mr. M. had asked me to accompany the children singing O Canada, so as to provide a bit of volume in case of a small turn-out. It would be my job to sing in the background helping to expand the volume of the children’s voices. Prior to the song, Mr. M. and I had the children contained in a small area, and a child from another school happened to pass by in front of us. Mr. M., recognizing the boy, leaned over to him and said to him, “I know you! Do you remember me?” The boy looked at him quickly and then with a bit of disdain brushed past him and replied, “I don’t have time for you. I’ve got things to do. Stop annoying me.”

I was watching the conversation unfolding as I stood beside the pair, and immediately, I turned to see how Mr. M. would handle his response. For I knew the impact Mr. M. has had on the kids in our school- the sheer number of children who had shown up to sing on a Friday night gave evidence to that. I knew that these same children had a renewed passion for music because of the influence of Mr. M. And I also knew that it was Mr. M.’s influence in his kind and caring way that kept the students engaged and involved in his program. It was him they loved.

Mr. M. is just that kind of exceptional person.

As I looked at the boy, wearing all that indifference on his young face- and I thought to myself: “Do you know who you are talking to? Do you know how much this man is loved? Do you realize that he is just about to lead a school choir in front of a large audience of people and he is taking the time to talk to you- when he could be spending his time talking to the event organizers? Do you know who this man is?”
And as I thought these things, I realized something. This young boy- he doesn’t realize this; and perhaps the reason why is simply that he’s never known a Mr. M.

Children who are taught by the Mr. M.’s of the world may not all turn out the same. They might not all end up being musicians or connoisseurs of the arts. They might not all end up giving up an evening to be part of a choir singing at a public event. But you can mark my words of this: the students taught by the Mr. M.’s of the world are exposed to the extraordinary art of caring. And their lives are changed because of it.

The Mr. M.’s of this world don’t do anything different than the rest of us teachers- specifically. They are sometimes late for work. They can often be disorganized. They sometimes say the wrong things or make mistakes for which they wish they could have a do-over. Their lesson plans are not perfect. Indeed, they are not perfect in every case, in every situation. They are normal, in this way.

What separates the Mr. M.’s from the rest of the pack is not what they do- that’s not what make them so unique. It’s who they are that makes all the difference. The Mr. M.’s of the world have somehow figured out the secret. They’ve come to understand that excellence is more readily attained by being than by doing.

Being available.
Being kind.
Being compassionate.
Being transparent.
Being real.
Being thoughtful.
Being ourselves.

As I have said before (What Students Remember Most About Teachers), of all the students I know who have lauded teachers with the laurels of the highest acclaim, those students have said of those teachers that they cared.

And caring is something that transfers from the public to the private. When the world is no longer watching and the pressure is off, those teachers who show care and concern for their students are the one who are most inspiring.

I thought as I mulled over the incident with Mr. M. and the boy- that boy may have never known a Mr. M. He may have never had a Mr. M. in his life to inspire him to greatness. To inspire him to care. And perhaps the reason he was so dismissive- so indifferent was he has never known the tremendous art of caring and compassion.

What a tremendous travesty that is.

It is for this reason I stay in teaching. This is why I still choose to be a teacher.

Because there will always be boys and girls, teenagers and students of all ages in need extra-special caring and compassion. The lack of interest in their eyes might signal this desire. Or it might just be their attitude. Perhaps it will be their defiance or their careless insolence. It might be just the way they look at us, their teachers.

When that boy looked at Mr. M. and said those words, I noticed Mr. M.’s response. It was one of grace. Of caring. And all I could think of was this:

“It’s for you that must teach, must stay the course. It’s for you, Boy. Because if we fail to see students like you and extend to you our compassion and kindness, we have missed an important opportunity to touch a life. We do this for you.”

These moments in a teacher’s life- they are regular occurrences. There are so many opportunities to extend care and compassion and grace to our students. Opportunities that occur when the world isn’t watching, but are monumental nonetheless.

And for those children who have felt the impact of all the Mr. M.’s in this world, those quiet moments are quite possibly the only moments that they will remember.

Teachers: might we never forget. It’s who we are when the world’s not watching that really matters.

Kindergarten funnies…

Monday weekend news in the kindergarten classroom. I am listening to stories about everyone’s weekend and I get to the last little rascal and I ask him, “What happened to you that was exciting this weekend?” And he proceeds to tell me (with the saddest, most downcast face a darling boy could muster) that his father had gotten rid of their cat this past weekend. And he carried on the story as I asked question after question about why and how and yadda yadda yadda this all came about. And the further we got into the story, I could hear the pity in my voice until I was just about at the point of the morning routine when we would have to stop the share and move on to something else…when he starts splitting his side LAUGHING his head off at me and yelling, “GOTCHA!!!! GOTCHA!!!!” And I stop dead in my tracks and look at him and then I say, “You mean to tell me this story wasn’t true????” And he goes, “Nope!!! I was just joking!!!” And as he laughs at the complete ignorance of his teacher, she sits there in a chair beside him with her jawbone literally on the floor.

Fictional story telling 1.1? Check.

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Question I was asked today by a student. For real.
“Mrs. Gard, when you see a real, live turkey and you start to drool, what does that mean?”

Gooooooooooood question.  Let me google it…

 

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Overheard in the Kindergarten classroom today…
Little Boy: “I wish I was …PREGNANT.” (?)

and later on…
Different Little Boy: “I am Mrs Gard…” (?)

BTW, these two stories are on NO WAY related.

 

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Me (looking at the calendar on our classroom wall): “So Boys and Girls, what’s coming up on Wednesday?”
Child #1: “I can chase a bee….”
Child #2: ” I held a baby once…”
Distracted much?

 

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Little Boy: “Mrs. Gard, can you show me how to draw a heart…’cuz I want to love you.”

………awwwwwww

 

 

Why I don’t support Shaming…among other bad spiritual tactics.

There is a problem with the church today- a problem that runs deep and wide and long.  It’s created a chasm actually and an exodus. It’s a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt.  It’s a problem all right.  And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.  Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, A Christian).  Shaming them for their sins.  Shaming them for their choices.  Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard.  Shaming them for not upholding expectations.  Shaming people for reasons even I can’t conjure up.  Shaming in the name of faith and religion.  Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.

I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet.  The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.  In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles.  At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him.  You can read more about it here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/07/why-i-wouldnt-attend-pastor-steepeks-church/

At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man.  I saw the ‘homeless man’ as the story.  What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely.  A work of God made even in His own image.

But after considering a wise friend of mine’s perspective, another angle emerged.  And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.

The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:

The church’s number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can’t even count. I have used it so many times I can’t even count. When I think back on the times I’ve been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I’ve used it I feel remorse. It’s the church’s primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don’t even realize it anymore.

Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn’t out of love, then it’s not a healthy motivation.

            I am a teacher of kindergarten students.  There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four and five year olds.  They are busy.  They don’t always pay attention to everything I say.  And sometimes they outwardly ignore it.  If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length.  I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.  As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students.  Do I do it one hundred percent of the time?  No.  But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day.  To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth.  Here’s Vygotsky’s mantra: “Show me what you can do, and then I’ll help you get a little better at it.”

Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.

What we need as a Church is to see God for who He really is, not for the interpretations we have of Him.  God is a Father- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.  When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children.  I don’t wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do.  I don’t dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say.  And I don’t try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable.  I strive to not be that parent.

No.  I love them. I admire them.  I am proud of them.  And I would die for them if need be.

And so would God.  So did He.

And if we can see God that way- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people- The Church in the same manner.  We must see the church as God sees them.  For the church is His Beloved.  They are his Bride.  He loves us i ways we can not even begin to understand.  And as a Father, we are His children.  The depths and heigths of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated. 

It is time we started loving people the way God does.

There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love.  But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians.  I Corinthians 13 :4- 8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That’s God’s kind of love.

So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable?  Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message?  And why can’t we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?

And this one’s for the girls…

I feel strongly compelled to write about an issue that is hitting me square between the jaw, as I am a mother of three young girls as well as a teacher who interacts with girls of many different ages each and every day.

Body image.

It is something that young girls begin thinking about as young as kindergarten. And it often dictates their eating habits, fashion choices, leisure activities, friendships, relationships and self-confidence levels from that point on.

I am really concerned that we as adults are not doing enough to assure young girls that their bodies (and indeed, their soul and sense of spirit connected to which) are amazingly suited for them as individuals no matter the shape or size it might come in. I am really concerned that the message to change the package and make it better, sleeker, more stream-lined, better functioning, more attractive, and just plain improved from its original model is coming from us- the adults. A message which states that they should look less like the original and more like whatever is best for the moment.

I am really concerned that our young boys are discovering at ever younger ages that this is a sore-point with their female counterparts and as such, they know from listening to the adults that girls should look a certain way, eat a certain amount, exercise and dress a certain way. And if the girls don’t, somehow the memo came down to the boys at ever younger and younger ages that it was okay to let the girls know how they could improve. And then some.

And I am even more concerned that the girls themselves have it in their heads that they can lord it over each other- that if they happen to ‘have the goods’, it is their God-given right then to make the ‘other’ girls feel ‘less than’. Turning friend against friend. Sister against sister.

Friends, this ought not to be so. We need to stop this, one person at a time. We can make a difference. We can.

We need to stop RIGHT NOW sending these messages to our children that special is a size. That better is a number. That best is a weight or a proportion. That beautiful is one size fits all.

Because we know within our heart-of-hearts. It’s not. We know that the people we truly love are more than just a shell. They are what’s inside. The package fades, the soul does not.

I want my daughters to know that I will FIGHT TO THE GRAVE so that they come to know and appreciate their worth as individuals. I will fight to the grave so that they come to see that their personal value must be in things of substance, not shallow fading fancies. And I will crusade TO THE END for this: for all those kindergarten girls I teach, for all those in-between girls I coach and mentor, for all those older girls I talk and listen to. They are not a number. A shape. A shell.

Yes, they are body. But they are also soul. And radiant spirit. Personality. Character. And so much more. And at the end of the day, it matters not what they look like. It matters what they are.
It matters who they are completely.

I remember…and I am grateful.

I am eight. Maybe nine. We are playing, my little friends and I, on a snowdrift at school. For lack of sleds and toboggans, we are using our snow pants as sliding apparatuses. One goes down the slope, and then the other. It’s a cool, crisp winter day. And soon, it’s my turn again. I make a lunge for it and then I fly. I feel the cold beneath my bottom, as winter snow gear makes intimate contact with frozen, dirty ice.
Without any warning, my head jerks backwards. I feel a tug on my hood and then arms grabbing at me from behind. I have no idea why, but my downward descent has just been abrupted. And then I see just in front of my eyes- the tires on a car whiz by. So close, I can feel the breeze. And by breath is taken quite away. I can feel my heart pounding thunder inside my chest.
That’s how close it was. That’s how very close one can find themselves to the very edge of their humanity.
If not for my friend, where would I be today? It is a rhetorical question, because for all I know, these near- death experiences have happened more than I might ever know. What if I hadn’t paused at that red light to check my watch? What if I hadn’t been sick that day? What if I hadn’t gone on that trip? What if? What if?
And the ‘what ifs’ can serve to either comfort or haunt us forevermore.
What if I hadn’t been born in 1974? What if I had been born forty years earlier? What if I had been asked to sign away my life so as to defend my country’s freedom? What if I had been asked to make the supreme sacrifice? To give my life on the front lines, so that those I was there to defend could live to see another day? So that those whom I loved wouldn’t have to fear the enemy?
What if I had been there? What if I had been the one to stare down the enemy? And what if my life had been changed just by one, small detail. Wouldn’t everything be different? What if all of our lives were changed by one decision, one moment in history, one small, miss-step that made all the difference. Wouldn’t everything for all of us be so very different?
We really cannot speak about what we would do or wouldn’t do. We cannot speak from high ideals that transcend place and time and the context of the day. But we can appreciate. We can say thank-you.
Remembrance Day is one part remembering and one part gratitude. Both are equal in proportion to the magnitude of the significance. Without one or the other, there is not as much value. They complement one another equally.
I remember the day my friend saved my life. I don’t know what possessed her to reach out so quickly and catch me before I was crushed under the tires of that moving vehicle. But I do know that it was for a reason. I remember. And I am so very grateful.
In memory of all the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice. They did it so that we did not have to. And it is because they lived it, fought for it and died because of it that we can now today remember and say thank-you for it. May we never, ever forget.

Marvelous Grace…

Some of my most real writing- the most vulnerable, transparent material I write, comes from an experience in which I mess up royally and then learn a few lessons in the process.

Yesterday was one of those days.

But first: I don’t want my life or any of the lives in which I am in the position to influence, either through my writing, my teaching , my parenting or any other meaningful way of relating to be ever left with a message from me that life in Lori Gard’s world is one of roses and marshmallow fluff. That I never make mistakes. That I don’t have a multitude of life lessons to learn in my own journey. My writing has been for me a form of therapy, at times, in which I reflect on my day and try to find the bigger picture: the underlying message. What is the take away from today that I want to remember? What did I learn about myself and the world around me that can help me grow as a person and improve on where I am today…so that where I am tomorrow will be a better place?

So back to yesterday. Don’t we all have those days in which we would give a $100 dollars so as to just re-do it over again? Or maybe not. Maybe it is better that yesterday is behind us, and tomorrow is already on its way. No matter.

Yesterday, I began the day with a to-do list in mind- hustle,bustle. Rush,rush. Those days can go one or two ways- really good, or really, really bad. So by the time noon rolled around, I was already operating on about half my brain cells. I was using a half-tank of gas. So you can appreciate this when I say it: when we make mistakes that cost us dearly, it is important for us to remember our frame of mind before hand. Were we stressed? Tired? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Exhausted?

So at lunchtime, I was sitting back, taking in the scene around me- caught up in the moment: and I said something to someone. Something not very nice. Something I would never have said under ordinary circumstances. Something I meant to be a joke, but as soon as it was said: I realized wasn’t very funny. I could see the shock on my friend’s face. I immediately tried to think about what I had just said. Did I say that? And why? Quickly, I registered my thinking process. I knew in my heart that I had just got caught up in the moment, but she she know that? Did she understand the intent was not to hurt?

As a teacher, I have drilled into my students the concept of being a “bucket-filler”. Bucket-filling is when a person heaps up kindness onto another person so as to make that person feel accepted and valued. It is a positive way of interacting with other people. Bucket-dipping is when we say or do things to other people that take away that feel-good feeling from the person. It is when we dip into another person’s bucket that things go wrong. I teach my students and children to be bucket-fillers, of course, but after yesterday I wondered something: do I give kids the proper message about bucket-filling?

We as humans are never going to be bucket-fillers all the time. We are not always going to get it right. There are going to be moments throughout our day- everyday- in which we slip up and do or say things to others that are not nice. I think it is important to recognize that we are not perfect. We cannot eliminate entirely bucket-dipping from society- from our schools, our homes or our communities. A better approach to teaching around bucket-filling would be to show kids that messing up happens: it is a part of life. It’s what comes next that makes all the difference.

So again: back to yesterday. I realized immediately what I had done was hurtful- even though my intention had not been to inflict pain. And I went to that person. And I apologized. Profusely. In tears. And I told the person I was sorry.

And two things miraculously happened. I had an opportunity to realize that I am never going to be a perfect bucket-filler all the time: I am prone to failure actually a large percentage of the time. That’s the first- it was a realization that I mess up. But as soon as I apologized, my dear friend: She showed me grace. So I had the extraordinary opportunity to experience another person’ forgiveness. What a wonderful, exhilarating experience that is.

I don’t want the students I teach or my own four, precious children whom I parent to ever think they have to be bucket-fillers all the time. That’s an unrealistic goal. They won’t be that. I can’t be. We all can’t be. We are HUMAN. We are frail. We make mistakes. We mess up. Life lesson #1 is: being a bucket-filler every moment of the day is an exhausting challenge to live up to. So, I want my kids (all of them, because the school ones are mine too…) to know this: you can’t always be a bucket-filler every moment of the day.

And when we make those slip-ups, that’s where Life Lesson #2 comes into play: we can learn from our errors and use those opportunities to understand people better. We can put ourselves into those other people’s shoes, even if for but a moment. We can empathize with the person we’ve hurt- intentionally or otherwise: because empathy is a good opportunity to learn what it felt like, what it was to them to be “bucket-dipped. And we can also identify with them through heart-felt apology.

And if marvelous grace comes back our way, then bucket-filling has come full circle.
Grace is like that: it smooths out the rough edges, it salves the soul. It truly is marvelous.

I would never want my readers to only see the best of me- that’s not real. So this is me un-cut. Unrevised. In all my messy glory. And this is also me- a work in process. Growing step by step, a day by day.

We are more than the best, most shiny parts we show the world: and sometimes, it’s the rough edges that give the clearest picture of what it truly means to be a human.

Outside the box…

“Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?”
― Ian Wallace

We are all guilty of living (sometimes) just a little bit inside the box. Of being conformists. Of following the latest trends, the latest social norms, the current list of do’s and don’ts. But we were never meant specifically for this. We were meant for being free. For living outside the box. For being different.
I remember being 10 or 11 years old and wishing I was shorter. There were a lot of short people in my class at the time and short seemed to be where it was at. I was a gangly, awkward young thing with legs too long for her frame. And all I wanted to do was shrink. Reduce. Make myself smaller. Because I wanted to be whatever descriptor the box was around me at the time.
What I remember about those days was trying to make myself appear uniform to whomever was around me. And try as I might, it was nearly impossible to do. I couldn’t get shorter, no matter how hard I tried. And eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t a carbon copy. I was unique. I was a too tall pre-teen and that was okay. Because I was more than merely a length or width or height. I was a person.
I was essential, I was whole. Just as I was.
There are a lot of kids around me in my line of work that want to be the same as everyone else. It’s hard to stand out and be the different one- particularly if your kind of different isn’t what matches the going fad. The going trend. Actually, this isn’t just a kid problem. It’s a people problem. It is not easy to stand out in a crowd when the thing that defines you boxes you in. The kind of box I am referring to is such that makes you feel constricted, not free. That makes you feel as though who you, what you have- the lot you’ve been given in life: all of it is not enough.
Boxes can do that to you.
They can put walls up between people. They can shut people out. They can make barriers. They can create loneliness.
I realize there are free-spirits out there that have that special something that attracts attention. They don’t live in a box because (perhaps) what they have been given is innately and already desirable. Whom I refer to are those that possess certain rare qualities: those who have the ‘it’ factor or whatever else might be deemed attractive and special and desirable at the time and moment of need. For these, the box does not define them. They live life unbound. Unshackled. Not like the others who are at the mercy of the box.
But if we were all truthful, whether one is inside the box or outside the box: there is still a feeling of separation. Because boxes divide people- they don’t unite us.
It’s time we stepped up. The gracious, accepting nature that defines those who know better- the empathy and caring that so many are in possession of can be used to dismantle the box. We don’t need a box to tell us what we’re worth. To show us how much better or worse off we are. We don’t need it to make us feel good about ourselves. We don’t need it so as to compare and contrast our unique selves. Living outside the box can free us from all that. Ridding ourselves of the box can redefine everything.
When we take apart that box and allow people to stand free and exposed, we see that there is beauty in difference. We don’t have to be the same to be accepted. Being different is better.
Being who we are is already enough.
And those of us who believe this to be true must ensure that others come to understand it too. That others come to the same realization: that people were never meant to live in boxes. That we were meant to live wildly, free- in wide open spaces. We were meant to live life with abandon. And in so doing- in acknowledging and celebrating the beauty of difference, we can rid ourselves of the boxes that hem us in.